Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe

In 1999 the Penn State Small Business Development Center (SBDC) assisted Elaine Meder-Wilgus and her partners restructure and reposition a long standing local used bookstore. With SBDC assistance and bank funding, they opened a larger bookstore carrying new and used books, and added a café that became a community gathering space. Webster’s Bookstore and Café was conveniently located in a prime retail location in downtown State College for eleven years. Elaine bought out her partners and operated as a community based business that, over time, the local residents decided was essential to the downtown vitality at State College.

Due to some unfortunate outside business decisions, coupled with the economic downturn in 2008, Webster’s Bookstore and Café struggled to support the cash flow needed for it and her other business ventures. She fell behind in the rent payments at the downtown property, and was notified in late June 2010 that the lease would not be renewed. She had just over a month days to sell the inventory and vacate the property that her business had occupied since 1999.

The community outpouring of support was overwhelming. Community members raised funds to help her through the transition period. Volunteers helped her move and countless newspaper articles were written to present both sides of the story. Webster’s was not just a business to the local residents; it was a sacred institution that needed a new home.

As the weeks turned into months, then more than a year, it looked as if “Webster’s” would not be returning. However, the community believed in the business model, and Webster’s tenacious owner, found a new, benevolent landlord who was as passionate about the business model. Many resource partners were willing to devote countless hours to create a new and sustainable model, and Webster’s celebrated its Grand Re-Opening in April 2012.

Behind the scenes, one of the resource partners was the Penn State SBDC. Over the course of the sixteen months that Webster’s was re-inventing itself, Elaine’s consultants ran many iterations of proformas, assisted in developing strategies to ensure the sustainability, and helped her with marketing ideas. In the end, the Penn State SBDC were instrumental in helping her plan an exciting Grand Re-Opening Event. Crowds gathered outside to celebrate Webster’s ‘rising from the ashes’ and the new membership program included a custom mug that created an image of a Phoenix embedded in the clay.

With the help of the Penn State SBDC, Elaine succeeded in securing a term loan to finance the renovations to the new space, again hired twelve employees, and offers the community a place to gather, enjoy the local arts and practice their mantra – ‘Buy Local.’

    • Success Story - Penn State - Websters Bookstore